Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cloud Watch

So I just read a portion of a book about data-driven journalism. And I have to say, it was difficult to follow and stay interested.

Though cute little acronyms were present throughout to help us remember, there were far too many complex acronyms to keep up with. XML? SQL? API? Who has time?

But to say this kind of information is useless is obviously ignorant, when projects like Matt Waite's PolitiFact have won Pulitzer prizes. Yeah, I wouldn't mind a Pulitzer or two.

But this kind of data collection has the potential for so much. It has news potential like Waite used it, but applications I personally enjoy like Foursquare are really just databases too.

One thing I was confused about was finding outliers within data. Other than using basic sort functions, I have no idea how I would go about finding anything that was out of the ordinary within sets of data.

Some of the databases mentioned in the chapter, such as The Beamer File or GasBuddy are very much niche based. But this is the trend journalism is going in, I've been told. Local news survives in many places entirely because it can't be gotten anywhere else.

Having a product you can't get anywhere else is essential for small-town newspapers to make the transition to online. Creating a tool that is unique and people go to for information will not only attract niche users, but niche advertisers.

Newspapers have a lot of duties. We're expected to be government watchdogs, interpret that which cannot be interpreted without excessive effort, to be the first to know about things, to communicate clearly, to write well, and perhaps the most important: to be dependable and the go-to source for information affecting you.

In order to be the go-to source, we have to give people what they want. Data provides more possibilities to do so.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My first day in Washington!

Oh man. Little Washington and I met. And it was awesome.

I learned a lot, that's for sure. Let's start with the way I was dressed:


I wasn't sure what to wear, because I wasn't sure of what I would be doing. I was just told I would get my assignment on the way down there. So I decided better safe than sorry, I'd wear a professional dress. I did not fit in in Washington, I looked like I was from New York with my modern business dress and big sunglasses and leather purse.

Anyway, I was prepared for anything. Except maybe the incredible heat I encountered. But when I realized my professor had given me the wrong number to call, I faced my first challenge: finding wireless Internet to find out exactly what I was doing. In downtown Chapel Hill or Raleigh, this would be no problem. In Washington, it totally was.

We stopped first in this adorable little bookstore and asked the clerk if she knew where we could get it. She said the restaurant next door had it but you could sometimes pick it up here. So I sat on this little green chair and tried to pick it up but failed. The clerk told us a coffee shop downtown had wireless so we trekked that direction til we could finally pick something up.


Then, I finally got my task for the day: if I were to move to Washington this weekend, find a place to live and find something to do.

I thought this would be no problem. So after wandering down and introducing myself at the Washington Daily News, I figured maybe the best place to start would be the classifieds. Sure.

First problem: I didn't have any quarters on me. So that was a fail.

There were some other boxes nearby with free real estate stuff, though, so I picked up the "apartment guide."

second problem: they were all in Greenville. I suppose I could commute from Greenville. But who would want this business as your newspaper? (I kid :P) But really, I thought I should stay in Washington.

So then I wandered into the visitor's center, where they directed me to Chamber of Commerce. While in the visitor's center, I mentioned I would be around this weekend, and asked where I could stay.

They told me about a gallery exhibit premier that sounded kind of cool and a couple of places that would have live music. I love me some live music in Raleigh. This is win. They told me about two places, the Pirates Pub and Notes Cafe.

Well I went over to the Chamber. It was right on the water yesss.


While I was in there, I asked the roughly 25-year-old girl at the front desk what I could do this weekend. She said "for people our age" Notes Cafe and Pirates Pub were about our only options. Or I could go into Greenville.

Anyway, at the Chamber they gave me a list of apartment complexes with phone numbers. There were about 6 in Washington, 4 elsewhere in the County. Psh, this was too easy.

So I sat down to make some calls. Then I hit problem three: every single one of these apartments listed, even the ones fairly far out in the county, were full.

I was stumped. I figured there just weren't that many complexes in such a small town. so I figured the next place to look was the Internet, so I needed wireless again. Headed on in to Notes Cafe.

It was empty, so the owner called out to me once I walked in. I said awkwardly in an overly southern accent, "So I heard y'all had wireless in here?"

He welcomes me in and starts talking to me, gives me the wireless password, and asks me where I'm from. I say Raleigh. He asks me what I'm doing in Washington.

"I'm looking for an apartment. And I can't really tell you why I'm looking for an apartment. But I'm looking for one as soon as possible."

Then he tells me to check out Pamlico Properties. He tells me they'll give me the lowest prices.

I found so many cute places I'd love to live.


This one's probably my favorite. It's beautiful, waterfront, middle of downtown, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, pet friendly, and a mere $850/mo. for the entire house. Plus, the interior walls are green! so cute.

So a little word of mouth there goes a long way. This'll be important to keep in mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wake up, Mr. West.

This Thursday, I'll be taking my first trip to Washington, N.C., so lovingly referred to as "Little Washington."

It's hard to decide how I should prepare for this trip. My job is going to solve some sort of problem, which I won't know until driving down on Thursday. Judging by the live Washington cam, it looks like a real busy town.

Judgment aside, I'm actually really psyched. I feel fairly attached to this town after I've already done all this thinking about it.

but I'm a little bummed I won't be shadowing the newspaper, to be honest.

I guess part of that's just me wanting to be inside my comfort zone. This is exactly where I shouldn't be if I want to create something truly new and innovative.

Well, here's my anticipations, however far off they may be. I think this could be useful. Here's how a city-slicker sees them, let's see if any of them are accurate
-I expect this to be a small town. Meaning I expect a lot of neighborhoods, not a lot of chain businesses. A few mom and pop stores.
-I expect to see a lot of water, since the town is on the coast.
-I expect to see a lot of gift shops.
-I expect to see a lot of neighbors talking on their front lawns, fostering that community atmosphere.
-I expect to see some white picket fences. This is small town N.C., after all.

Also, I expect their Eastern N.C. barbecue to be delicious and I fully intend to try some while in the area.

But all these stereotypes I have, whether or not they're useful, aren't what I'm looking for. Because the stereotypical Washington citizen is going to be sitting on their rocking chair reading their newspaper cover to cover, and that's not what I'm looking for.

So for everything that seems unusual, that I wouldn't expect, I'm coming for you.

get ready.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The world would never do.

I only regularly read two and only two Chapel Hill blogs, one typically thought of as conservative and one liberal.

So when I looked at all these different sites, databases based on particular areas such as Bluffton Today or Bakotopia, probably what struck me most was their promotion of different blogs.

They're filled with events and other things you might care about, although typically not what I'd consider news. In Bakersfield, I learned about the techno Funalicious show. I was also enlightened about the Bakersfield culture, through this really intelligent post about phat vs. fat.

So what's the news? I can't decide.

But then I look at sites like GasBuddy and my first reaction is OH MY GOD THIS IS SO COOL. and so useful. It may require a little planning ahead, but it's SO COOL. Being able to know the cheapest gas in my area, cheapest gas on my way?! SO COOL.

I don't know. With a site like GasBuddy, there's nothing to sort through. It's so easy to use and organize. But sites like Bakotopia just seem to me like they can't be useful. I think that might be where the journalists come in. Take these blog posts about funotopia and make them organizable. Put them on a calendar or sort them by venue. Sort through the phat vs. fat blogs and put them in a separate section for humor. I don't think I could use Bakotopia for news.

MooCo looked pretty cool too. Unfortunately, though, it had one weakness over the other. MooCo might be amazing if you know what you're looking for — the other sites could be resources for other wishing to learn about the town.

The only thing that concerns me here is that journalists aren't fact checking things people post online. While I don't see people posting false information on things like gas prices, I could see people posting falsities to push agendas or advertise. Maybe that's where we fit in, too. Or at least copy desk.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time is all we got

My favorite piece of narrative journalism is probably the same as a lot of other people's favorite piece of narrative journalism.

"The girl in the Window" by Lane DeGregory, a St. Petersburg Times writer, won a Pulitzer for her incredible story of a girl who was neglected for years escaping and starting a new, better life, even with all the difficulties she still faced. It's an incredible story. The language, the reporting, everything just cuts the reader to the very core. I watched a video of DeGregory talking about how she found story ideas, and learned she got this amazing story through a public relations expert. They're good for something, huh?

That's the kind of story we all want to write! It's beautiful. Life changing. Makes you want to cry. Tells a story no one's heard. You feel like you really know this girl. It's wonderful. I'd be so proud if that story was my legacy.

So when I started to read The Washington Post's "The District's Lost Children," (and I'll admit I haven't yet finished, it's quite long), I began to think, "yeah, to be famous for a series like that wouldn't be so bad either."

But this story was written differently. There wasn't as much color or explicit detail (probably a good thing considering so much of it was about kids dying). But it's impact was just as incredible.

But I started reading about this because I was told Sarah Cohen, one of the coauthors, would come speak to my class about data-driven journalism.

Data driven journalism. When we're talking about how it would look for Washington or Whiteville, N.C., we've been talking about gas prices, about parking, movie theatre times. All things people truly want to know. Things that truly do affect our daily lives. But they're not what I see as journalism. They're not what I want my legacy to be.

But it got me thinking: if this many Washington children were dying due to failures in social services, wouldn't people want to know that too?

While I love DeGregory's story, I have to say, it doesn't have the same impact as Cohen's. That's because you grow attached to Dani, but she's only Dani. With DeGregory's story, you have hundreds of dead children.

But Cohen's story was presumably so famous because of her work with databases, records, and a year-long investigation. It's not the same as chatting with a public relations expert.

This product we're creating for Washington N.C. isn't limited to basic information. What do people really want to know? what they don't expect to see.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

There's A Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven't Thought Of It Yet

Premise for this blog: In a hypothetical world, I've been given $1 million to start my own news product for a small town.

So. This is hard to say without knowing the specifics of said small town.
It's so hard to define what a town needs without being plugged in.
There's my disclaimer.
Also, I don't know budgeting so I'm just assuming a million is plenty enough for anything.

Hmm. Well what's news? what's necessary for effective news?

It would have to be interactive. Customizable. Personal.

But you also want that news you can't get anywhere else. That news that typically goes into briefs.

What are the bus schedule changes? How is the construction going to affect parking? Where can I get the cheapest gas?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is Wilmington Star-News' Myreporter.

My news outlet would have a component like this.

This would allow readers to get the news they desire — and only the news they desire. This way, people won't have to sort through pages and pages of things they don't care about but go straight to success.

It would also have a print component of some sort. Perhaps it would be smaller, but it would have something to read with your daughter on your lap or at the local general store. It would have to be there to provide the social aspect.

And in a small town, a newspaper has to have some kind of "refrigerator journalism" aspect. You can't get that on a web site. Printing it out and putting it up just isn't the same.

My paper would have extensive, exhaustive local coverage. I probably wouldn't buy an AP wire service. Maybe a cheaper wire service like McLatchy, for briefs and to fill the paper. I would use that money a wire service would cost to employ more local reporters. But also for things like more photojournalists and multimedia journalists. People love slideshows. And multimedia just makes news more fun and interactive.

My paper would also have monthly meetups, so journalists can have a part in the social aspect of in-person sharing the news.

Each one of these would offer a different product.

Now, these are just musings. Apologies for not being more specific.

I think I will be one day though. :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

bye bye watchdog?

An online news source that's going to tell me exactly where I can buy the cheapest gas on the way to the highway? yes please. One that will inform me about where I can park in Chapel Hill? perf. One that updates me on the newest rock tours in North Carolina? sounds incredible.

It's the kind of product that my JOMC491 class is producing. But this article we're reading for it makes me wonder if that's what I should be wanting from my news source. All that stuff sounds awesome. Sorting through a Carrboro board of alderman agenda about which bank the town will use? psh boring.

News that's chosen by those with trained news judgement rather than the immediacy of what you specifically want can show you so many things you dind't know you cared about but should. I actually found the bank debate a fascinating conflict between local and big businesses once I got into it.

But more than that, they show you what can affect you that you wouldn't even know it.

You might not care about your town council's consent agenda. But you would, if it was passed and they had, without any discussion, given every council member health insurance for life, a story my reporting professor loves to tell.

But Kelly, you might say, that kind of news is what the papers are for. The Internet we can do something new and different.

Well, yeah. but here's my question. and it's a practical one, that I realize another class will probably attempt to answer: how are you going to afford all that?

how are you going to afford a specific news staff for every person's wants and needs?

The article states that a primary fuction of reporting is analysis. Well, if the only news you're getting is about where can you park or what movies are playing in your local theatre, how much analysis can you get?

It even said "Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know." But if we create a product that only gives you what specifically you're looking for, how will you ever find out something you wouldn't otherwise know?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Washington 4 W's

As I stated in an earlier post, I'm taking a look at Washington, N.C. this semester and how their news sources can provide online editorial product that they want. Here's what I've found so far in my research, in classic journalist who-what-when-where format:
What I know
• Fact: Washington has 9,583 people
o This is important because it gives an idea of how many people are in the immediate population the paper is serving.
• Fact: there are 1,219 more women than men in Washington
o This is important because women are likely a larger audience for our newspaper.
• Fact: As of September 2007, the Daily News had a circulation of 8,736 Monday through Saturday and 8,969 on Sunday
o This is important because it we know the size of the population we hope to serve.
• Fact: Washington is 24.7 percent under 18
o This is important because this percentage is the most likely to benefit from our editorial product.
• The median income according to the 2008 census estimate for Beaufort County is $46,574
o This is important because it is below the national average income
• The racial make up of Washington is: 51.8 percent white, 46 percent African American, 0.5 percent Asian
o This is important because it shows that while the town is diverse in terms of not that many white people, but
• Fact: The June unemployment rate for Beaufort County is 11 percent.
o This is important because it is higher than the North Carolina unemployment rate of 10.1 percent
• As of August 31, Beaufort County had 31671 registered voters, 50.8 percent of which were Democrats, 30.3 percent Republican, 18.8 percent unaffiliated, and 16 libertarians.
o This is important because it shows the political persuasions of the county
• At least 60 percent of students at Washington High School are at adequate reading level, making it a “school of progress,” where 35 percent of N.C. high schools are. This is the middle of seven levels.
o This is important because it shows that there are many people, as much as 40 percent, that need catching up to be on adequate levels for their age.

• Washington is in Beaufort County.
o This is important because it suggests the newspaper will serve the people in the other towns within the county.
• Washington is on the coast
o This is important because it suggests tourism is likely an industry of some kind.
• The closest major city is Greenville, 20 miles west.
o This is important because it shows where people will likely go for services you can’t get in small towns.
What I want to know
• Where do people work?
o I’ll find this out by: interviewing the Washington Beaufort Chamber of Commerce
• What are the big controversial issues in Washington?
o I’ll find this out by: interviewing the mayor, keeping up with the Washington Daily News Web site, talking to residents.
• Are people in Washington large computer users?
o I’ll find this out by talking to the mayor and residents.

I almost feel disappointed with my list. As a journalist, why am I having so much trouble coming up with "whens"?